Family Life

All Different Kinds of Dads

This summer Peter is spending much of his time playing full-time Dad.

Since he’s not teaching and I have lots of writing to do, some days it’s all him on the home front. He makes breakfast. Reads his Bible in front of the kids while they eat. Then reads theirs to them. He takes them to the forest preserve for bike rides and runs. Carts them to soccer camp and swim. Holds picnic lunches on the patio. Helps Daryl practice piano and writing while Amelia naps. And in the evening he lights candles in the fireplace and reads Narnia. With voices.

He is that kind of Dad.

Ok, so sometimes the breakfast dishes are still in the sink at day’s end. Sometimes the kids eat beans on toast (it’s a British thing) for multiple meals each day. Sometimes he forgets to blow out the candles and makes me crazy. And don’t even get me started on the state of the back seat of the car.

No. He’s not a perfect parent. But he is an awfully good Dad.


dad and kelli 2


I had a Dad of a different sort.

Not bad, just different. Not the hands-on Dad that Peter is. He was limited, my Dad. Through no fault of his own. By disability. When I was Daryl and Amelia’s age, I couldn’t be left alone in his care. He couldn’t fix me breakfast. Change my diaper. Take me for a bike ride. Drive me to piano lessons. Or even pick me up and spin me around.

That wasn’t the worst of it though. Even more difficult was the fact that he never said much at all. His thick speech made him difficult to understand. And I think he gave up trying long before I came along. So he remained—to a great extent—locked inside of himself. Mostly silent. Distant. Just out of reach.

But he was present. He got up extra early every morning because it took him a while to bathe and dress. And he went to work. Paid every bill on time. Kept us all fed and clothed. Even sent us to a private school. He came to my softball games and my piano recitals and beamed with pride at every one. And two or three or even four times each week, he was the first one to the car when it was time to go to church.

My dad was embarrassingly encouraging, amusingly positive at times, and generous to a fault.

For everything he gave me, I am grateful.

And for what he couldn’t give, I’ve had to grieve.

I’ve also come to understand that he probably grieved those things too.


I don’t know what kind of Dad you had. What he gave you. And what he didn’t.

But I do know this…he wasn’t a perfect parent.

Even if your dad made you breakfast and did the dishes. Even if he took you to church and to the forest preserve to ride your bike. Even if he attended your softball games and your spelling bees and your piano recitals with equal measures of enthusiasm and pride. Even if he roughhoused and cuddled and looked you in the eye while you poured out your heart and then shared his heart with you. Even if he taught you everything he could about art and algebra, about right and wrong, about friendship and family. Even if he was both fearless and faithful. Even if. He was human.

And he could only meet your longing for security…your need to be adored…your desire for knowledge and connection and purpose in part. Because all of those desires are really, ultimately, desires for God. That only He can fully fill.

Oh, He often enlists the help of others, of course. He’s restored little parts of me under the care of family and friends and colleagues and books and pastors and Peter. When my boss and another colleague spent sacrificial hours building the play set that I had concocted in my head. When a pastor friend handed me a copy of Changes That Heal and said, “You should read this.” When an elderly neighbor with a snow blower took it upon himself to dig us out—snow storm after snow storm—our first winter in This Old McHenry House. When an uncle drove to the middle-of-nowhere Minnesota to put his arm around me at my parents’ grave and give me a squeeze. When Peter patiently probes my heart. And finds the pieces that are still red raw. The needs that have gone unmet. And he holds them. Coddles them. Prays over them. And sits with them while they heal. Then I see the Father and I know a bit more of His love.

So Happy Father’s Day to all of the different kinds of Dads. And to all of the men who have in some way fathered me.

4 thoughts on “All Different Kinds of Dads

  1. Hi Kelli,

    Thank you for expressing what seems to be again, yet and still, going on in me – another layer of grieving the unmet needs of a girl and a wife, by her father and her husband, and the awareness of  the magnitude of the effects of that loss in my life.  Yes, I’ve had a huge amount of healing in my heart, and I know I am, and I will always, get all I need from the Lord.  Yet, as I watched The Notebook movie for the 5th or 6th time, the beauty of Noah’s love shared in youth that continued on to the end, continues to dredge up  more sadness, disappointment and grieving in me.   I ask myself (and God)again and again,   “How many layers are there?”  Perhaps it’s unrealistic to compare a movie to real life; but the feelings that arise are very real.

    I really enjoy your blog, Kelli; your writing touches my heart!

    Love and Blessings,


  2. Since it would be wrong to plagiarize the comments that go before, I’ll just say…

    Beautiful. Reached some of the deepest parts of my soul. Thank you. <3 My Abba is still doing a work in this, and I'm thankful he might use various people to gently proceed in the process.

    1. And I had to read this again, considering this Scott’s message this weekend. Whoa! Few things can make me cry like thinking about my heavenly Daddy. <3 I'm so glad you wrote this.

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